Research Spotlight: Transatlantic Migration in African Literature



Dr. Antje Ziethen, Assistant Professor of French Studies at UBC, seeks new insights into the complex dynamics of migration from the African continent to the Americas.

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From Lagos to New York: Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Before Now After, 2015. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

“By bringing into dialogue theories from transnational studies, urban studies, migration studies, and literary theory, I hope to offer a conceptual tool for the study of migration literature.”
Assistant Professor of French Studies

Dr. Antje Ziethen, Assistant Professor of French Studies

I specialize in francophone literatures with a particular focus on urban space, migration, and gender. My research spans several geographical areas such as West Africa, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, as well as North and South America.

My more recent projects deal with the movement of Brazilian returnees to West Africa, the Black Mediterranean, African speculative fiction, and the concept of geographic metafiction. Currently, I am working on a manuscript that reads novels from across the African continent through the lens of transatlantic migration.

I argue that cities in Brazil, Canada, and the US have become privileged sites of residence, creation, and imagination for African writers who have lived a period of time in the Americas or established a new home there, pursuing higher education and benefiting from job mobility. My study posits that these authors choose to represent the transatlantic connection particularly through urban space, thus highlighting that cities influence migration patterns.

Questions that I hope to answer are:

  1. What are some of the historic reasons for transatlantic urban migration revealed in the novels?
  2. How and why are the different cities connected?
  3. How does urban space encourage or discourage interactions with other immigrants and non-immigrants?
  4. How does this body of work differ from African migration literature that focuses on European countries, that is, former colonial Empires, particularly Britain and France?
  5. Do the themes of migration and city in literature encourage new writing techniques? What conclusions can we draw from this analysis for migration literature and migration studies in general?

Reaching beyond linguistic divides

From Lagos to New York: Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Before Now After, 2015. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

My project seeks new insights into the complex dynamics of migration from the African continent to the Americas.

Literary scholars still pay little attention to these transatlantic itineraries, remaining primarily focused on the Mediterranean Basin and, to a lesser extent, on the African continent itself. The book will contribute to positioning African literatures as a transnational field that extends not only to the Global North but also to regions in the Southern hemisphere, which are still underrepresented in current research.

Moreover, the scope of this study encompassing countries across the African continent calls for a comparative approach that reaches beyond linguistic divides. I combine eight texts in English, French, Portuguese, and Arabic to override the compartmentalization of African literature into separate disciplines. This will allow me to yield fresh perspectives on migration in a wider, pan-African context.

The interdisciplinary methodological framework, which brings into dialogue theories from transnational studies, urban studies, migration studies, and literary theory, offers a conceptual tool for the study of migration literature in general. I hope that this cross-fertilization will also appeal to scholars working in African and African Diaspora Studies, Urban Studies, Cultural Studies, and (Latin) American Studies.

Looking forward to UBC

I have already talked to several people at UBC—in my own department and beyond—with exciting and inspiring research projects that align with my own interests.

Being part of the Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies enables me to connect with, and learn from, colleagues particularly in Latin American and Caribbean Studies who focus on the African Diasporas in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking communities. I am sure there will be many occasions for exchange and collaborations in the future. I am also hoping to connect with francophone communities in and around Vancouver to organize cultural activities.

After having lived many years on the East Coast and in the American Midwest, I look forward to discovering the Pacific North West and its biodiversity. I love to observe wildlife—birds, whales, bears, you name it. BC has always been on my wishlist.

Hampton Fund New Faculty Grant

Dr. Antje Ziethen’s research project has been awarded the Hampton Fund New Faculty Grant, which seeks to help Assistant Professors in the early stages of their careers establish their initial research programs.


Learn more about Dr. Antje Ziethen.